by Carole Barclay
Valence House in Dagenham may seem to some an unlikely venue for an exhibition about the occult arts – but the Bruja exhibition, the word is simply the Spanish for witch, has considerable interest in the London borough that was once part of south Essex.
This modest display of sketches, paintings and ‘magic’ paraphernalia by Alisha Ward is tucked away in one of the rooms of this historic moated manor house, which goes back to the 13th century. It now contains permanent exhibitions on history and life in Barking and Dagenham, including displays from the old London County Council’s massive Becontree Estate.
Alisha Ward is an artist, illustrator and art student from London. She says that her work traditionally “takes the basis of the female form, using this as a catalyst for ideas which revolve around mental illness and the human condition, and takes a narrative form incorporating mythology, folklore, gothic, literature and pop culture references.”
In this exhibition in the Whalebone Gallery, Alisha combines the iconography of magic with her interest in folklore, film and the spooky side of life to create a narrative of the landscape of human experience.
It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area and the rest of the museum is packed with interesting displays that reflect life in the borough from the Stone Age onwards, as well as a gallery dedicated to the social impact that the building of a massive council estate in the 1920s and the subsequent arrival of the Ford Motor Company had on what had been a rural village on the outskirts of London. There’s a ‘cinema’ that shows newsreels about Dagenham on a continuous reel and a very good café at the nearby visitors centre.
Valence House is not the easiest to find if you don’t know your way around the estate, so take a map with you. The nearest stations are Chadwell Heath and Dagenham Heathway, but they are both a 20 minute walk away from the park. Admission is free and the museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 to 16:00; and the exhibition runs until 6th May. Admission is free at:
Valence House Museum
Dagenham RM8 3HT
Phone: 020 8227 5293 or 2034